Why these people spend a fortune buying rare trees

Louis Meisel collects vintage pin-ups, 19th-century ice cream scoops, art deco ceramics, boot jacks — and trees.

“Like all the other things I’ve collected, I found them before other people [jumped on the trend],” said the 75-year-old, who owns a namesake gallery in Soho. On his 4-acre Sagaponack, LI, estate, Meisel has more than 200 hardwoods — including 20 species of beech — all purchased from individuals and dealers. He admits he’s spent as long as five years looking for the perfect copper beech tree.

“Have I spent $150,000 or $200,000 over the years? Yeah,” said Meisel. But, “if you found some of [my trees] today, they would cost $150,000 [each].”

For New Yorkers with lawn and cash to spare, adding a fully grown “heritage” tree to their property is a quick way to signal that their roots are deep, and not just nouveau riche.

“It’s like buying antiques or artworks,” said Charlie Marder, 65, a tree dealer in the Hamptons. He once moved an 80-year-old, 26-foot-wide sargent’s weeping hemlock onto Shelter Island for furniture designer Kevin Walz.

The majority of trees collected on the East End come from nurseries including Marders in Bridgehampton and Whitmores in East Hampton. But Halka, which boasts 200 varieties of trees on 2,500 acres of land in New Jersey, is known as the premier nursery of the East Coast. (It is notoriously difficult to move uncultivated trees grown in the wild.)

A fully grown Japanese maple can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $75,000, while a beech commands $20,000 to $100,000, depending on size and species. It’s not unheard of for homeowners to drop as much as $1.5 million on 100 or more trees, said Rick Henkel, 79, of Princeton Horticultural Services.

“It takes 60 years to grow a tree. Divide that by the price and they aren’t that expensive,” Marder said.

Sometimes, the thrill of the hunt is part of the fun. “All my collecting is about finding the rare stuff and finding it where other people aren’t looking,” said Meisel, whose gallery was the fictional place of employment for the character Charlotte on “Sex and the City.”

The tallest tree that can be moved without a special escort is roughly 40 feet high, the length of a standard trailer. Hiring diggers, trucks — and, occasionally, helicopters — can boost prices by six figures.

Erik Hess, 45 and the owner of Hess Tree Company in California, even has East End clients who take their prized trees with them to Florida each season: “I’m not kidding. In the summer they will plant palms in the Hamptons, but when the season is done, we put them on trailers and ship them back.”

According to Daniel Thorp, a partner at LaGuardia Design Group, a landscape-architecture firm in Water Mill, NY, there is no such thing as going overboard for the perfect tree.

“Our clients look forward to coming from their homes in Manhattan and visiting their trees. They whisper to their trees. They say, ‘Nice to see you. Did you miss me?,’ ” the 31-year-old said. “I have a client who named his green-leafed Japanese maple ‘Fluffy.’ ”

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